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The American Opportunity Offered By Coronavirus

03 / 13 / 2020

The Masters has been canceled. This shit just got real.

Yes, I was going to attend the tournament for two days. Yes, I’m disappointed. But NO — this is not some tragedy.

My not being able to go to a golf tournament is what is known as a “high-class problem.” People who don’t know how they’re going to miss work and still pay for their rent, food, medicines and child care — they are facing real problems.

Ironically, those real challenges represent the potential silver lining in this public health epidemic that’s about to get a whole lot worse. In this moment, Americans have a big, fat opportunity to show whether if, after all the political rancor and cynicism of the last few decades, we are still able to come together for the greater good.

We’ve seen that we have this capacity locally, in big and small cities where there have been hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. I remember when Hurricane Harvey slammed the Gulf Coast in 2017 and thousands of Houstonians selflessly sprang into action.

One of the most visible examples was Charlie Diggs, who turned his boat into what became knowns as “Charlie’s Ark” — constantly delivering his neighbors and their pets to safety.

Charlie and his passengers didn’t discuss how they’d voted a year earlier. They had fatter fish to fry, or, rather, deeper floodwaters to navigate. As Samuel Johnson expressed long ago, death has a wonderful way of focusing the mind.

Some folks still think that the Coronavirus is being overblown; that it’s just a bad flu strain that’s spreading faster than usual. Even if that was true, the larger perception and understanding right now is that it poses a very real danger to certain members of every one of our families. And therein lies the opportunity.

Will Congress come together and pass urgent legislation that addresses the challenges of working Americans who cannot afford to miss paychecks? Individually, will we help our friends and neighbors as they need assistance day-to-day? Will we express real appreciation for our docs and healthcare workers who stay out on the front lines — regardless of personal risk?

Tom Brokaw wrote a book in 1998 about “The Greatest Generation.” I always felt that the title obliquely disregarded other generations of younger Americans who volunteered for the Armed Services and fought multiple tours of duty in other wars sanctioned by our government.

That said, World War II remains the most epic example in the modern history of our country — and our allies — coming together to defeat an existential threat to our way of life. People in that generation did make make big sacrifices and performed the roles they knew they all needed to in order to defeat Nazism and the unspeakable damage it had wrought — and could continue to inflict.

No, I’m not making a direct equivalency between WW II and the Coronavirus. But this pandemic is in its infancy and is something that potentially threatens all of us, no matter our race, religion, gender, etc. It’s about time that all Americans were required to confront a common challenge where we are all truly “in this together.”

Sure, there are politics involved. We’re already seeing it in negotiations between the president and the House Majority. But that’s to be expected. This isn’t China, so even mistakes made cannot be unilaterally corrected by one leader who has genuine authoritarian control of his citizenry.

So let’s give it a minute. At the same time, all of us can follow the guidance from health authorities and support our mayors and governors in their decision-making and requests for our cooperation. This is already happening — and it’s a good thing.

We can also look for easy opportunities to help each other. This week, an elderly couple parked in a car outside a grocery market felt too scared to go inside. After 45 minutes, they got up the nerve to flag a woman in the lot. Rebecca Mehra accepted their $100 bill through the window and went in and shopped for them. Didn’t cost her a thing. She shared the story on Twitter and a day later more than 11 million people had seen it. Let us all follow suit where we can. Little stuff. Easy stuff. It is often important stuff.

Very often we hear or read politicians saying some variation of the theme that “working together, there is nothing that Americans cannot accomplish.”

It’s usually spoken in reference to a big vision or major legislative initiative geared toward our country’s future. But right now, every single one of us can actually work together on the ground to reduce the longevity and severity of the Coronavirus.

We can let go of our political frustration for a moment and stand side-by-side to help to save lives in real-time. And, maybe just as importantly, we can prove to ourselves that we’re still capable of doing it.